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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1599

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:59): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts, I seek leave to make a statement on the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011, in discharge of the committee’s requirement to provide an advisory report on the bill, and to present a copy of my statement.

The SPEAKER: There does seem to be a relatively major problem with the PA system, but I can now hear the honourable member.

Leave granted.

Mr ZAPPIA: Mr Speaker, the committee has endorsed the content of the statement that I am about to make. The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 was introduced into the House on 23 November 2011. The following day, the bill was referred by the Selection Committee to the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts for an advisory report.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 to give effect to Australia's international obligations under the Antarctic Treaty and the Madrid protocol. These amendments seek to establish more stringent arrangements to protect human and vessel safety in the Antarctic environment. Specifically, the bill implements three measures that have been agreed to by treaty parties in recent years.

Measure 1, which introduces a liability regime for environmental emergencies in the Antarctic, requires all government and non-government operators to implement measures to reduce the risk of environmental emergencies occurring and to establish contingency plans, maintain adequate insurance and respond properly to any environment emergencies that do occur.

Measure 4 requires non-state operators such as tourism operators carrying out activities in the Antarctic to draw up and put in place appropriate contingency plans and arrangements, including insurance, for health and safety, search and rescue, and medical care and evacuation.

Measure 15 requires operators of Antarctic tourist vessels carrying more than 500 passengers to refrain from making any landings and, for smaller vessels, restricts the number of passengers that may disembark at any one time. It imposes a minimum guide-to-passenger ratio on groups that do disembark. The measure also requires tourist vessels to coordinate with one another to ensure that no more than one vessel is at a landing site at any given time.

The committee understands that the three measures have been agreed to by all parties to the Antarctic Treaty, which are at varying stages of implementing the measures. Importantly, the committee understands that the bill before the House seeks to legislate no more and no less than is required under the measures that have been agreed to.

During its inquiry, the committee received a private briefing from the Australian Antarctic Division to discuss aspects of the bill. The committee notes that the Australian Antarctic Division has previously undertaken a thorough consultation process with relevant stakeholders, including Australian tourism operators and other interested parties. The outcome of the consultation suggested general support for the measures from industry, and no significant concerns were raised.

As proposed treaty actions, the measures were also examined by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which presented its unanimous report in October 2011. While a variety of organisations were contacted, the treaties committee only received one brief submission, which was supportive of the measures. The committee supported the measures, noting that they would contribute to protecting the Antarctic environment. The treaties committee report also noted that, because the measures would not enter into force until all parties had implemented them, timely action domestically was crucial to Australia maintaining its influence within the Antarctic Treaty system.

The committee considers that this last point is particularly pertinent given that Australia will be hosting the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart in June this year. Having this legislation enacted prior to the meeting would improve Australia's negotiating position and help encourage other nations to implement the measures as well. The committee also notes that in most cases Australian tourism operators already have exemplary standards of operation and are largely meeting the requirements of the bill on a voluntary basis. The passage of this bill would therefore merely formalise the arrangements already in place.

Given the uncontroversial nature of the bill, the considerable level of stakeholder consultations that have taken place to date and the treaties committee's previous consideration of the provisions of the bill, the committee has determined that a more detailed level of inquiry is unnecessary. The committee therefore recommends that the House pass the bill.

I also take this opportunity to note that, while the committee supports the bill referral process of the Selection Committee as a mechanism for improving transparency and consultation around legislation introduced into the House, in this instance it would have been useful to the committee if reasons had been provided for the referral of the bill. The referral of an uncontroversial bill can interrupt the work program of a committee and may delay the passage of legislation for relatively little benefit. It would seem that committees could be more constructive in their consideration of bills if they were provided with a meaningful statement of reasons for the referral of each bill, as was recommended by the Standing Committee on Procedure in mid-2011. On behalf of the committee, I have recently written to the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure to express this concern.